Dr. Olajide Williams is a neurologist. The program he developed in conjunction with legendary rappers is called Hip Hop Public Health.
It uses the beats and the allure of hip hop to do something revolutionary in the public health sphere: get kids in the inner city to make healthier choices.
"I think music is an extremely powerful medium. I mean, great poets have described music as being the bridge between heaven and earth. But I see music as the bridge between health education and the streets," Williams said.
The centerpiece of the interventions in schools, in summer camps and online are clever videos. One uses a traffic light analogy to teach children how to make healthy food choices.
"Whether I'm sitting down with Chuck D and I'm explaining the traffic light food model, whether I'm sitting down with Doug and I'm giving him a mini-tutorial on stroke," Williams said. "And then there's usually a back and forth process until I'm happy and they're happy and when we find that balance."
Hip Hop Public Health began nearly a decade ago as a partnership between Williams and hip hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh.
They started with something that made sense for a neurologist: stroke.
They say the program worked and that kids were recognizing symptoms and saving lives.
"That's when I really said to myself, ‘Well, you know if it can do this within stroke, then potentially other content areas,'" Williams said.
Williams and Doug E. Fresh said being cool is key to getting through to this population.
"It's using hip hop in a positive way … The kids go home and they're so excited about it that the parent has to get into it. You know, they're like, ‘Play that. Play that song. Let me hear that, you know, let me see that video,'" Doug E. Fresh said.
Hip Hop Public Health is going national. An album produced in conjunction with Michelle Obama's Partnership for a Healthier America was released Monday. It includes more genres and more songs to make being healthy cool. (Download album here.)
Williams and Doug E. Fresh are hoping to distribute the new album to schools nationwide, along with an exercise program, free of charge.
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